Embarrassment is one of the most unique of human emotions. In a sense, it contains nearly every negative emotion all bundled into one: fear, anxiety, anger, disappointment, sorrow, etc. – with the bonus of a few physiological twisters thrown in just for fun!
But embarrassment need not be the death of you, although that might be your preferred mode of existence during those crucial ensuing moments! Being embarrassed is something everyone is afraid of, which is why we spend hours going through our wardrobe, perfecting our presentations, learning to walk properly in high heels and generally fussing ourselves into a state of frenetic paralysis.
Understanding the Mechanics of Embarrassment
There are essentially two types of embarrassment. The first is the one in which a heart-felt ‘sorry’ will do the trick and gloss over our behavior; the other is the dreaded one – the one that makes us wish the earth would open up and swallow us that very moment. Both are undesirable situations to be in, but the latter is truly horrifying.
There’s an entire wall of fame for those with a chronic foot-in-mouth syndrome, and another one for those bumbling, clumsy types that keep embarrassing the heck out of themselves at even the most serene gatherings. But saying “what happened, did somebody die?” just before you walk into a house where there’s been a death isn’t the worst thing that could happen to you. After all, you could be the one in the casket! And think about the man who tripped and fell on the Queen just before being knighted. Well she can’t say, “Excuse me, Sir” before she’s actually clouted him with the sword, can she? Imagine the embarrassment on both sides – although, one would imagine that the Queen of England is used to handling embarrassment on a global scale!
Dealing with the Fact
So how do we deal with these bloopers? What can we say or do that would redeem us and make things right? Sadly, not much at all! But there’s hope yet. We can use our embarrassment to grow, spiritually. This isn’t to say that before you are elevated to the level of sainthood, you won’t be considered a blithering idiot. The spirituality comes later. Much later!
Speaking of redemption, how do you think the consummate blooper-maker handles embarrassment? We’ve discussed how there’s no such thing as redemption, but if you’re truly quick-witted, you could turn an embarrassing moment to your advantage. Consider the inimitable Robert Benchley, American humorist extraordinaire. In what is now a famously repeated tale of quick wit, Benchley was leaving the Algonquin Hotel when he asked a person he assumed to be the doorman to get him a taxi. Unfortunately, the gentlemen retorted with “Sir, I am a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy.” “Well, then get me a battleship”, quickly replied Benchley. If you can pull it off, even the most embarrassing moments can turn out in your favor. Chico Marx nearly got away with kissing another woman by telling his wife: “I was just whispering in her mouth.”
But if you think dying of embarrassment is more your forte, then read on.
Tips to Get Over Embarrassment
Tip #1: Apologize and Get Over It, but Revisit It on your Own Terms
Obviously, the first thing to do if you’ve offended or inconvenienced someone is to apologize. This should be a mumbled “I’m sorry”, but a well thought-out apology. You can give them the mumbled version first if that’s all your up to at that moment, but make sure you deliver the full version before the matter grows cold.
The very next thing is to get over it and keep it where it belongs – in the past. This is hard to do, but you have to keep things in perspective, or you’ll be perpetually haunted by its memory. If you’ve apologized properly and it’s been accepted, then you’ll begin to feel better about it right away.
The revisiting part might sound like it’s in direct contradiction to the ‘get over it’ part, but it’s really not. It actually helps you put the issue to rest, because when you think about how you felt at the time (you wanted to die, remember?) and how you feel about it now, you’ll see that time is a great healer. Doing this will also help you avoid flashes of it the next time you’re in a similar situation; in fact, when you are, you’ll be able to handle it with a lot more poise.
Tip #2: Laugh About It, Be Human
Some of the most-loved people in any crowd are those that can talk about their most embarrassing moments. Because being embarrasses is such a universal thing, people will immediately fall in love with you when you bare your soul to their scrutiny. They’ll laugh with you, not at you – because you’re already doing it!
Understand that everybody has been acutely embarrassed at some point in their lives. Most people, however, relegate those memories to the dark corners of their personality thinking that they’ve been such idiots and nobody can ever top their bumbling behavior. Not true. Everyone has their own stories, and if you open up with yours, they’ll be tempted to share theirs, and then you can all expose yourselves for the human beings you really are. It’s healing, and it’s a tremendous feeling not bottling up all those negative emotions about your ‘most embarrassing situation.’
Tip #3: Do NOT Back Down from another Episode
The problem with embarrassment is that it is such a powerful negative experience. The average person wouldn’t even consider attempting to think of dreaming of putting themselves in that place ever again! That’s how powerfully prohibitive these situations can often be. However, you’re the real loser if you behave like the cat that sat on a hot stove.
It’s not easy risking your self-esteem again – and in the same way, no less. But if you knee-jerk yourself out of the way the second time, there will never be a third time. The truth of the matter is, in all probability, the chances of THAT ever happening to you again are a zillion to one. So why be afraid of walking through an orchard for fear that an apple will bonk you on the head? Get it?
Understand the reality of embarrassment, and how to deal with this emotion, and you’ll never have to fear an embarrassing moment ever again. You have just been elevated, Saint Reader!